HC Deb 10 June 1981 vol 6 cc462-5

Amendment proposed: No. 14 in, page 4, line 36, leave out '15' and insert '29'.—[Dr. Boyson.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 23, in clause 7, page 6, line 12, leave out '15' and insert '29'. No. 24, in clause 7, page 6, line 14, leave out '15 days' and insert 'six weeks'. No. 28, in clause 9, page 8, line 5, leave out '12' and insert '6'.

Mr. Hannam

I wish to say a few words about the amendments, especially Nos. 23 and 28, which are in my name. All the amendments relate in some way to the time allowed for appeals and assessment.

I am extremely pleased that the Government have accepted a longer period for parents to make representations and to seek advice from the local authority and any other appropriate persons when they wish to make representations about a proposed statement. I therefore welcome wholeheartedly Government amendment No. 14, which extends the period from 15 to 29 days.

My amendment No. 23 relates to the time available to parents who have been served with a copy of a proposed statement. As the Bill stands, they would still have only 15 days in which to make representations to the local authority. I therefore ask that, as under amendment No. 14 with regard to assements, the period for representations on a statement should be extended to 29 days.

I do not regard 15 days as sufficient. Indeed, if my amendment No. 22, which calls for fuller disclosure of evidence leading to the statement, is successful, the extra time will be necessary in any case. It is difficult for me to put my argument effectively at this stage, however, as amendment No. 23 is in a sense consequential upon No. 22, which is to be taken in a later group. But, regardless of that, the argument still stands on its own feet.

I hope that in considering amendment No. 23 my hon. Friend will think of it in terms of a situation to which I hope the House will agree later, namely, the full disclosure of the evidence leading to a statement being made. I think that in those circumstances we would agree that 15 days would not allow full examination and consideration of the factors influencing the local education authority in making that statement.

If my later amendment, which provides for full disclosure of information, were accepted in some form or other, we should have to accept that we would need more than 15 days for representations to be made, because of the time necessary to examine the various pieces of evidence. The disclosure of the evidence would require that extra time. But even if my later amendment is not accepted, I still consider that we would need to extend the period from 15 to 29 days.

My proposal in amendment No. 28 would reduce the period for which a parent would have to wait for an assessment. We decided in Committee that 12 months was far too long for a parent to have to wait for assessment. Six months seems to be much more reasonable. If the local authorities are at all worried about having constant vexatious representations, they have an extra safeguard, because even if we reduce the period to six months they do not have to comply with repeated requests unless they are satisfied that it would be appropriate to do so. I hope that my amendment to reduce the period from 12 to six months will be acceptable to the Government and that it will not need redrafting.

I hope that the Government will also consider sympathetically my other amendment, No. 23, which seeks to do what the Government amendment seeks to do, that is, to extend the period from 15 to 29 days.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

In the information-collecting sittings and then in the Standing Committee stage proper, I pressed for information on how long the appeals procedure was to take, because it has been represented to me in Stockport that there is concern there that the appeals procedure could take so long that it could be detrimental to the child involved.

I asked the Minister in Committee to produce a flow chart giving the time involved in going through the appeal procedure, and. I repeat that request this evening. It has been suggested to me that the period could now run to almost six months. There is the question of what education the child is to receive during that six-month period pending the outcome of the appeal procedure.

I pressed the Minister in Committee and he gave me assurances, but I press him again to make it absolutely clear to parents that they can opt not to use the appeal procedure if they are satisfied. I tabled an amendment, No. 16, which was not selected, the purpose of which was to stress to the parents that it is to the advantage of the child for the assessment to be made by mutual agreement and as quickly as possible. It is to the advantage of the child, if he does not intend to appeal, to inform the local authority as soon as possible, so that the local authority does not have to provide for the potential appeal time between the appropriate stages in its efforts.

I realise that it is a difficult balance to achieve. The Government are correct in giving parents the right to the longer period in which to make the appeal, but it should be made clear to people who do not want to appeal that they must let the authority know quickly, otherwise 29 days will go during which the child could have been receiving the benefit of a mutually agreed scheme of assessment.

I fully agree about the need to reduce the assessment period from 12 to six months, but it has been stressed to me in Stockport that there are resource implications for the local authority. Those concerned have told me that becoming too greatly involved in making formal assessments prevents their doing the informal work that some of them feel to be much more important. I hope that there will be a clear commitment by the Government to make the resources available, so that sufficient staff can be employed by the local authorities to enable them to do the work effectively.

7.45 pm
Dr. Boyson

Amendment No. 14 seeks to increase from 15 to 29 days the period in which the parents have a right to approach the local authority when it informs them that it intends to prepare an assessment. It is important that there should be plenty of time. The local authority, perhaps through advice on health grounds, may decide that there should be an assessment of the pupil, and that may lead to a statement being made. The postal services are not always as good as we should like them to be in certain parts of the country, and 15 days would not always be sufficient time. On the other hand, the period should not be too long.

The amendment was tabled following discussion in Committee, when hon. Members on each side took part, including my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), and I hope that it will win the approval of the House. When the local authority has announced to the parents who are concerned about their child that it wants to do an assessment, it is important that at that stage the parents should have time to take advice, to consider the question, and to tender information. I do not think that it is so important later. If we begin to extend everything to 29 days, the time taken will be far too long.

The Government do not wish to accept amendments Nos. 23 and 24, one of which would provide a period of six weeks and the other a period of 29 days. The reason is that the parents have already been involved. This is now the second stage, the stage of the draft statement. The parents have already had 29 days in which to reply to the authority after it has said that it intends to make an assessment. The parents have already been alerted to the position by then. We do not want to put into the hands of parents who wish to delay matters a means of delay that could be harmful to the child. After all, the parents have many other weapons that they can use at a later stage. If there is an allocation to a school, the parents can appeal if they are not satisfied. They can go to the Secretary of State at that stage. We feel, therefore, that 15 days should be sufficient to keep things flowing.

The Government would like to accept amendment No. 28. It is a question whether the parents can ask for a reassessment after one year or after six months. The hon.

Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said that he was worried because of the resource implications in Stockport, but the local authority is not compelled to do a reassessment. We feel that the weapon should be that of the parents. If, after six months, they feel that there has been a change in their son or daughter and that there should be a reassessment, they can state their reasons to the local authority.

I therefore commend to the House amendments No. 14 and 28, but I hope that the House will not approve amendments Nos. 23 and 24. We are not against the spirit of them, but we do not want to delay the flow of action once it starts.

Amendment agreed to.

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